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San Francisco Police Department
1945 to 1982

The economic boom felt throughout the nation after the war was nowhere more evident that in the Bay Area. War-related industries had brought a surge of new population into the city and the surrounding region, and many of these people elected to relocate here after the war. The resulting population shift, primarily to the East Bay, forever changed the face of the city. As San Francisco's population stabilized at approximately 650,000, the growth of the suburban areas turned the city into the workplace of more than one million people. Traffic on the bridges, opened shortly before the war, dramatically increased, and San Francisco was well on its way toward becoming a commuter-oriented city.

The effect of this shift on the police department was the gradual phase out of the walking beat patrolman. By 1948, most of San Francisco's policemen did their patrolling in squad cars, now equipped with two-way radios... .

The coming of the postwar property and its attendant inflation brought San Francisco policemen a well-deserved raise. While patrolmen's pay had peaked in the area of $200 a month in the late 1920's, the Depression years had caused the city to trim average monthly pay back to approximately $175 only a few years later, and salaries had not been adjusted upward during the war. Now, chiefly through the efforts of the newly-formed San Francisco Police Officers' Association, the force won a new contract from the city. Retirement was permitted after 25 years of service, instead of the previous 30-year requirement, and a mandatory retirement age of 65 was established.

The city's share of pension plan contributions was increased, and salaries were raised to an average of $240 per month. An officer who retired from the force in 1950 received a monthly pension of $183.85 if his working salary was at the $240 level. While still not a significant amount of money for a minimum of 25 years on the force, this figure was a 33 percent increase over the previous pension allotment. The work of the Association, particularly its efforts to represent the interests of the force in political campaigns would improve the lot of active and retired officers over the next 30 years.

In the 1940's and early 1950's, Hollywood discovered San Francisco. Such successful films as "The Maltese Falcon," based upon the fictional Dashiell Hammett detective, Sam Spade had captured the nation's imagination. These movies portrayed the city as a romantic, mysterious and dangerous metropolis, peopled with hard-boiled detectives like Humphrey Bogart, beautiful women such Mary Astor, and unsavory characters like Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet. While this image of the city was absurdly romantic, Hollywood, and, later, television, knew a good deal when they saw one. So many film crews came to the city every year that San Francisco became known as "Hollywood North."

Fascination with the city's murky, media-fashioned image quickly spread from film to the newsstand. An endless parade of cheap detective magazines which had become popular during the 1930's, began to focus on the work of the department's homicide squad. The magazines devoured stories about particularly grisly crimes and tended to sensationalize them even more with incredibly lurid writing, and titles like "The Man Whose Head Exploded," and "Save Me a Seat in Hell."

One result of the media's morbid curiosity with these crimes was that many of the department's homicide detectives became fixtures in the national spotlight. Three future chiefs, Francis Ahern, Tom Cahill and Al Nelder, came to prominence through this national attention. All three were professional, diligent homicide inspectors, and, while embarrassed frequently by the lurid, hackneyed reporting of the pulps, they succeeded in focusing the spotlight on the efforts of one of the nation's best departments.

With the postwar growth of the Bay Area came the increasing changes in the nature of the city. What had once been a self-contained, self-sufficient community, now became the district of a five-county region. Property values in the city's Downtown area soared, and because the force had expanded to more than 1500 officers and outgrown the old Hall of Justice, city planners began to study the possibility of moving the Hall of Justice and making a profit on the prime real estate at Kearny and Washington.

In 1956, voters approved a $19.5 million bond issue to construct a new Hall of Justice on the site of the Father John Crowley Playground at Seventh and Bryant streets, and construction was begun later in the year. The 7.9 acre site made it possible for the planners to house law enforcement and its related functions under one roof. When the new Hall was opened five years later, it included space for department administration, a Southern Police Station, five municipal and three superior courts, the district attorney's office, the public defender's office, the county coroner, the criminal division of the County Clerk's office an the county jail.

Also, in 1956, the department opened the Planning and Research Bureau for the ongoing study of procedures and operational problems, and the Intelligence Unit to focus on the activities of organized crime in the city. The creation of the two new units foreshadowed a 20-year period of increasing specialization within the department. The trend continued in 1958 with the establishment of the Central Warrant Bureau which concentrated all warrant information for the City and County in a single location.

Later that same year, the department began an unusual undercover operation, the first of its kind, in an attempt to control the skyrocketing rate of incidents in high-crime areas like the Tenderloin and Fillmore Districts. Under the leadership of Deputy Chief Nelder, assigned to the unit by Chief Ahern, the new "Operation S" ["S" for saturation] detail consisted of 50 officers in 25 unmarked cars who descended en masse on target areas to stop street crime before it occurred. The operation was so successful, reducing crime in the target areas by as much as 30 percent, that additional similar undercover operations continued into the 1960's until the creation of the Tactical Division.

The 1960's brought further specialization to the department with the creation of a new Underwater Rescue Unit in 1961 and the special K-9 Corps in 1962. In 1965, Chief Cahill created a special unit to handle citizen inquiries, the Bureau of Complaint, Inspection and Welfare. But the 1960's were also a decade of wrenching social turmoil. San Francisco police faced seemingly insurmountable crowd control problems as a result of the riots and demonstrations that accompanied the anti-Vietnam Movement... .

In 1967, at the height of radical activity on the city's college campuses and in the public parks, the department created the Tactical Division (TAC). Originally intended to incorporate most undercover and emergency operations into one unit. Since 1967 TAC has grown to include seven additional units: Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), Explosive Ordinance Devices (EOD), and the Park Units (Mounted, Dog, Honda and Street Crimes). Officers in the Tactical Division are all volunteers and concentrate on at least one of the special units, although they continue to perform regular police functions as well.

The department's response to the demonstrations an the dangers of terrorist violence, although effective, drew criticism fro the city's liberal community. As the Vietnam and Nixon eras ended, and a liberal administration came to power, the department came under increasing attack from the left... .

During the tenure of Chief Charles Gain, who was appointed in 1976, special attempts were made to communicate with these groups. However, many within the department saw Gain's efforts as needless image-polishing, and such alterations as the conversion of the traditional black-and-white radio cars to light blue "police services" vehicles were greeted with considerable skepticism.

On May 21, 1979 a jury handed down manslaughter verdicts to Dan White for the murders of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Citizens, outraged by the verdict, demonstrated and eventually rioted in front of City Hall that night. Chief Gain's questionable handling of the riot led the Police Officers' Association to conduct a formal vote of "No Confidence" in his abilities to lead the department. The results of the vote, 1,0811-no to 22-yes was published in June 1979.

Mayor Dianne Feinstein subsequently replaced Charles Gain with Cornelius Murphy as her new chief of Police. Under Murphy, the force has returned to its principal mission of law enforcement, and today remains one of the Nation's foremost police departments.

Exerpted from "San Francisco Police Department 1982" sponsored by the San Francisco Police Officers' Association, co-edited by Police Officer Gerald J. Schmidt and Gale W. Wright. Written by Wes Van Winkle.

The early history of the department was based upon the book "Behind the Silver Star, an Account of the San Francisco Police Department" by Gladys Hansen.

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